Behind The Song: O’Malley by Act Happy

today6 April 2024 30

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Who Was Grace O’Malley?

Rhiannon and Jax of Act Happy are great story tellers, often creating delightlfully catchy tunes about real life characters from history. Here, Rhiannon tells us us about how they came to write a song about a legendary female pirate.

Jax first had the idea to write a song about Grace. We ordered pizza and opened a bottle of wine and started playing around with some chords – in the key of ‘C’ as a fun little joke about pirates. We had already done some research on Grace, and kept reading about her as we were playing around with the music. 

Whilst Grace is a historical figure, her story has blended fact and fiction as it has become embedded in Irish folklore. This gave us a bit of lyrical freedom when it came to telling our version of her story. 

Grace was from West Ireland, and began her life as a pirate at the age of 11. It is said that when she was very young she dreamed of sailing with her father, but was told her long hair would get caught in the ropes. She cut off her hair, causing much embarrassment to her family. We sing about young Grace in the first few verses of the song. 

Once Grace took over her Father’s fleet she quickly gained a reputation as a brave and ferocious leader both on land and at sea. She married the heir to the O’Flaherty clan and became pregnant with a son. This didn’t stop her from seafaring, and she gave birth to her baby whilst on her ship at sea. Within an hour her ship was ambushed by Algerian pirates. She wrapped her baby in a blanket and made an appearance on the deck to help her crew overcome their enemies. Her husband was later captured by a rival clan and then murdered. In retaliation, she attacked them and took back her late husband’s castle.  

As England continued to exert more power over Ireland, Grace sank into poverty and her influence weakened. When she was in her 50s, Grace’s brother and son were captured by the English. Grace sailed to England to petition for their release, resulting in an audience with Queen Elizabeth herself. Elizabeth granted Grace’s request on the condition that Grace no longer rebelled against the English crown. It is said that Grace refused to bow to Queen Elizabeth, stating that she was Queen of her own land and not an English subject. This was the inspiration behind the chorus of the song. 

Grace O’Malley is a fascinating historical figure who is seen as a freedom fighter. For many, she ihas been a symbol of feminism as well as Irish independence. The Single, ‘O’Malley’ was released on 6th April 2024.

To find out more about Act Happy, their music and where you can see them play, check out their website:

Written by: Kym Frederick

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